Autistic children take center stage at theater camp

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SuperStars Summer Arts Camp participants perform a song from a Disney movie. (Photo by Karen Stokes)

Julie Borouchoff, director of SuperStars Summer Arts Camp, loves clowning around…literally. She has been performing as a professional clown since the ‘80s.

Borouchoff, who is holds a certificate in autism, was inspired to start SuperStars while working with autistic children for many years at Milwaukee Public Schools.

“I use my performance skills, along with my compassion for kids on the autism spectrum when teaching at SuperStars,” said Borouchoff. “I want to make this a fun and positive experience for children to be themselves and learn to interact with others while experiencing drama, movement, dance and visual arts.”

Brianna Borouchoff leads campers in a song. (Photo by Karen Stokes)

Brianna Borouchoff leads campers in a song. (Photo by Karen Stokes)

The two-week summer camp, in its fifth year, welcomes children on the autism spectrum, siblings and friends from ages 4 to 17. This year’s session ran until June 27.

According to the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 68 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD symptoms range from severe to relatively mild. The disorder is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

“Sometimes we perform a play, sometimes group musical numbers and solos. Because of the characteristics of autism, often the performances are spontaneous,” Borouchoff said.

The children learned songs from Mary Poppins, The Lion King, Toy Story and Fantasia for a Disney-themed performance. They also learned a comedy routine as well as a juggling act. An improvisational skit featuring the entire cast was the highlight of the presentation.

The camp, sponsored by Milwaukee Public Theatre, is located at St. Marcus Lutheran School, 2215 N. Palmer St.

“Activities are tailored to fit the needs of each individual child,” Borouchoff said. “The main goal is to have fun, work on social skills and make friends.”

When camp began Lizzie, a 6-year-old girl diagnosed with ASD, would sit by herself, not interacting with the group. After a few days, Lizzie started participating in group activities. “This is huge progress,” said Borouchoff, ”We are grateful Lizzie is joining us.”

Vanessa Johnson has a hard time finding activities for her two children with special needs. Her daughter Anaih, 6, has autism; her son, Arion, 4, has other health concerns.

“My children enjoy the camp, [and] I wish it was longer than two weeks,” Vanessa said. “This is their second year attending and they have been talking about it since last year. I am surprised to see how quick the kids catch on to put on a show in two weeks.”

SuperStars is a family affair for Borouchoff. Her son Avi, 18, is the song leader and her daughter Brianna, 24, sings and assists campers.

“Autistic kids are fascinating,” Avi said. “[There is] so much connection and interworking. It’s interesting to see how they connect to each other.”

Nehemiah, 16, a student at Milwaukee High School of the Arts and a friend of Avi’s, is not on the autism spectrum but wanted to participate because he has a brother with autism.

A typical day at camp consists of music, dance, art and drama, with theater games and movement to music. ‘They have a daily routine but we allow room for flexibility,” Borouchoff said. ”Sometimes the kids can get emotional.”

“Every day is a little different,” she added.

SuperStars is supported by Milwaukee Public Theatre, St. Marcus Lutheran School, Autism Society of Southeast Wisconsin and the Milwaukee County office for Persons with Disabilities.

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  1. National Autism Network says

    For a list of other autism events in your area, you can visit the National Autism Network Events Calendar ( which has autism events throughout the U.S. National Autism Network is the largest online resource for the autism community providing the only HIPAA Secure Social Network, provider directory, expert written content, autism news updated daily and resources. Register for FREE and access thousands of resources.

  2. Krysti Soderberg says

    I find the headline and the repeated use of “Autistic” offensive. My son is on the ASD spectrum, he HAS Autism but it does not define him and it certainly does not make him facinating. How ignorant to call a child’s disability facinating. We have to work hard every day to overcome his obstacles. We do not need people putting on a label, an outcome, and sitting back to watch the show.

    • Julie Borouchoff says

      Though I did not write the article – I am the co founder of the SuperStar camp. I apologize for anything you may have found offensive about the use of the word “autistic” as opposed to saying “children with autism.” I know that within the world of autism that there is a struggle with semantics. I also know that the writer of this article also has a child with autism.
      Though I have known and worked with many people with autism and hold an autism certificate from UWM, I cannot fully understand what you as a parent go through daily in raising a child on the spectrum.
      The SuperStar Camp is not a place to exploit children with autism. The purpose of our camp is to merge the autism world and the neuro-typical world. It is a place for both sides to understand and learn about each other – learning about people, and learning to get along and feel good about themselves through art and performance. The comment which was made about people with autism being “fascinating” was made by a neuro-typical individual who was discovering the amazing artistic talents that some people on the spectrum can have regardless, or even enhanced by their autism.
      The camp is a positive and safe place for all. Despite their difficulties, people on the spectrum have many gifts to give in this world, SuperStars Camp gives everyone, on and off the spectrum, a chance to shine. I hope this clears up any misconceptions that you may have about our camp. I wish you and your child the best.
      Julie Borouchoff

  3. Grenada Mcdonald says

    hello thank you for being a voice for our children who have special needs. I recently began to care for a child who has autism and i feel so helpless. I am concerned about her present and future. i reside in Milwaukee and i am desperately seeking a school for her to attend that will be sensitive and yet nuturing. there is no reason she cannot have the best education possible. any suggestions? PPS. Keep up the GREAT Work, and you are appreciated!!!!!

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